Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More on the Jesus Seminar, and methodologies

Continuing the thread from yesterday (into which Mark Goodacre has injected observations), Michael Turton responds to Stephen Carlson's remarks, concluding:

"That's exactly what the Seminar is doing: finding a streetlight. And yes, the continuing failure to develop sound methodology for sussing out the historical Jesus is a strong indication that the search is futile. At least in the Gospels. The Gospel of Mark was created off of the Old Testament and the writings of Paul, and its author knows no traditions of Jesus. It is work of fiction."

Michael sounds like Donald Akenson. In Saint Saul Akenson too uses the infamous streetlight analogy:

"No wonder questors for the historical Yeshua dislike Saul. Yet, Saul actually tells us a lot about the historical Yeshua; however, he does so almost unintentionally and he does so by writing non-narrative history. That is hard history to read, but we have to be careful of privileging the Synoptic Gospels and thus becoming the investigative equivalent of the drunk-and-car-keys." (pp 173-174)

I appreciate warning lights like these, especially since I'm one of those errant anti-Q heretics who believes that a certain pre-70 sayings community is a mirage. In my view Paul and (perhaps) James are the pre-70 documents we have to work with, though I do see a significant amount of history preserved in the synoptic tradition despite its later dating, owing largely to oral tradition. But at the very least, Michael has underscored the need for better and less question-begging methodologies.

Some of the classic criteria are more useful than others in assessing authenticity of sayings and deeds. I still find "embarassment" to be one of the most helpful (though not without its own problems), while "discontinuity" one of the worst and most heavily abused -- and probably in need of redefinition given what we know about the diversity of early Judaisms (or Judeanisms). After reading Bill Arnal's Symbolic Jesus, one is left with the impression that the criterion of (dis/)continuity serves deeply covert agendas, whether used in the service of a "Jewish" or "non-Jewish" Jesus.


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